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Why didn't the USSR annex Eastern Europe after World War 2?

Why didn't the USSR annex Eastern Europe after World War 2?

Why didn't the USSR annex Eastern Europe after World War 2?

 The Soviet Union was once a wildly impressive global superpower and the foundation of the massive Eastern Bloc throughout the Cold War period. Encompassing Russia and its neighbours and having a heavy influence over the rest of Eastern Europe, (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) USSR was the polar opposite of the United States and its Western allies. We know that, ultimately, the Soviet Union met an inevitable demise as communism crumbled across the east, but, would this have changed if the USSR had consolidated its authority even further?

What if the Soviets had incorporated all of Eastern Europe?

And, more importantly, why didn’t they?...

The Soviet Union, officially titled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was first established in 1922 and spanned over parts of Europe and Asia, with its roots in Soviet Russia. This vast territory that Moscow claimed to be the capital of, was without a doubt remarkable, but, it left some wondering why the Soviets

The reason why Moscow never consolidated its power throughout all of Eastern Europe has a bit to do with money and a tad to do with politics, and at least some to do with the strategies of Joseph Stalin himself. First, it’s important to look at how the Soviet Union was initially formed, and what state it was in prior to the outbreak of the second world war. The period following the first world war saw a chaotic and evolving status of the Russian state. After the Russian Revolution, Civil War, and Red Terror, a monumental treaty was signed between Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and what was then known as the Transcaucasian Federation of modern-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, in 1922. This treaty officially established the USSR under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin in


Upon Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin rose to command in his place and focused first on fortifying his power within the union he already had. Economy and development became a priority, and the new dictator enacted a series of Five-Year Plans in hopes of boosting the Soviet economic growth, as well as speeding up industrialization and collectivizing agriculture. The Communist party was too concentrated on establishing their ideal Marxist state to worry about anything else by this point, and this building process continued all the way up to the commencement of World War Two… 

During the war, for obvious reasons, the Soviet Union was rigorously preoccupied with the events of the conflict, but, they somehow still managed to take this opportunity to

further, expand.

The USSR quickly decided to enter and occupy Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in 1940, but this was not as unpredictable as one might assume. These territories had actually been fused with Imperial Russia before the formation of the Soviet Union, so when a deal was brokered with Germany that allowed the Soviets to retake these lands, they did so with significant ease. Finland would also cede some of its territories to the USSR as a result of the Russian-Finish War around the same time, but nonetheless, this was yet again a region very familiar with the old Imperial Russia. The Soviets found further success though when Romania gave up its lands in Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, which were together incorporated into the USSR as what we know today by the

Name of Moldova.

East Germany likewise fell into the Soviet sphere of influence after the annexation of Berlin, and by the end of the war, this sphere had expanded to incorporate Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Albania. Many wonder why the USSR didn’t turn their influence into outright authority throughout this Eastern Bloc, but the truth is that had they done so, it likely would have doomed the Union… One factor had to do with the contemporary relationship between the East and West. Though they had been allies during the war, the United States and the United Kingdom were not excessively fond of the Soviet Union. Tensions had only grown since the end of the war and Joseph Stalin was not oblivious to this.

As an intelligent strategist, he knew that if he were to fully incorporate the rest of the USSR’s influential sphere, he would simultaneously erode the already weakened relationship he held with the West, which would put the Soviet Union as a whole, in danger. Although they had technically won the war, the USSR had been devastated by the conflict. The ability of the Soviets to quickly rebuild an army, infrastructure, and economic flexibility if a new war broke out was utterly nonexistent, and on top of that, the ravaged state of the Union also meant that they would lack the necessary forces to confidently maintain strong security within an even larger USSR. Knowing all too well that overplaying his hand in these circumstances would explode in his face from multiple sides, Stalin had to come up with an alternative… The easiest way to maintain both influence and distant control of the Eastern Bloc would instead be to put Soviet-friendly governments in power in each surrounding state, rather than trying to bring them under the Moscow government. This tactic made it much trickier for the West to accuse the Soviets of overstepping any boundaries, and it required much less economic and military involvement from the USSR as well. The economy was also a leading factor in why Stalin would have wanted to keep his union from expanding much further.

 The Soviets had to rebuild after peace was made, and that would be enough of a challenge as is. The thought of adding more states into the Union that would also need to be reconstructed after the war was utter lunacy, and could not truly be considered. There was simply no way that it could be done and would only serve to self-destruct the USSR in its entirety… 

For these reasons, it was not the plan of Joseph Stalin to seize more of the Eastern Bloc, which would instead remain independent and simply uphold pro-Soviet governments. But, after Stalin’s death, even more, contributing factors came to light…

At first, the Soviets seemed to be in a strong position by the 1950s, and two years after Stalin’s death in 1953, the Warsaw Pact was established as a response to the creation of NATO.

This agreement was a defensive pact between the USSR, Albania, Romania, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia, and appeared to confirm the Soviets’ capability across the Eastern Bloc, without the need to officially claim the rest of the sovereign territories.

While the Warsaw Pact would later crumble, for now, it proved that the Soviet strategy had paid off. Back at home in Moscow though, the next decades would demonstrate something very different…

In a period marked by deStalinization and the Cold War concurrently, the Soviet government began to change. Nikita Khrushchev, who took control after the fall of Stalin, was wildly critical of his predecessor, and swiftly moved to pass reforms that would improve the Soviet living conditions and change the current status quo. These new shifts didn’t sit well with the Communist Party though, and Khrushchev was ousted by his own party in 1964.

It wasn’t just the Communist Party that was showing resistance either. Multiple rebellions had broken out throughout the Soviet sphere, and the liberalization process occurring in the Warsaw state of Czechoslovakia became enough of a threat that the Soviets, alongside the rest of the Warsaw states minus Albania and Romania, invaded their own ally.

This was merely the start of a new wave of turmoil that would not only ruin the USSR but also made it abundantly clear that still, any idea to incorporate the rest of Eastern Europe into the Soviet Union would be dangerously impossible… 

Across the next decades until its final dissolution in 1991, the USSR was falling apart from the inside out. With every effort having to be put on trying to fill the cracks as they appeared, even

if the West had backed off or the Soviets had been prepared for war or a new economic

responsibility, there was simply no way that they could even think about expansion. If there had ever been a time to annex the rest of the Eastern Bloc, this was surely not it…

Essentially, the reason why the USSR never incorporated the rest of its eastern neighbours into the Union can be simplified to say that there was never a good time. The more complex answer, of course, would be that the West was always a threat and would have undoubtedly reacted with great resistance if the Soviets had attempted to claim their influential sphere as a part of the USSR. Furthermore, the consequences of the world war meant that the Soviet Union lacked the necessary military power and stable economy to take on the responsibility of more territories.

This doesn’t even include the cost that it would take to restore the Soviet infrastructure, military, and everything else that the war had wasted. If the USSR had expanded, they would have been charged with the duty of not only repairing their own foundations but of doing the same for their newly consolidated territories. In addition, not every satellite state or sovereign nation within the Soviet sphere was an inherent ally.

Why didn't the USSR annex Eastern Europe after World War 2?

Many revolted against their Moscow-backed governments, and some eventually prevailed. It would have likely taken an exertion of military force on behalf of the Soviets to keep these states within the Union, and even if they could have handled this, it may not have been worth it. And lastly, the rise and fall of neighbouring Yugoslavia begs one more question - would ethnic discord have caused yet another challenge for the USSR if it had expanded over the entire east?

There seem to be endless explanations for why the Soviet Union never expanded beyond its initial peak. So, the real question may not be why didn’t USSR incorporate the rest of Eastern Europe, but instead, why would they have ever even tried?...

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